Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center

Reflections from new volunteers when asked "What do you feel empowered to do now?"

By Anne Huhman, Program Manager for Education and Prevention

SAPAC held its annual volunteer training program from January 29th – February 10th this year which included a mixture of presentations, dialogues, small-group discussions, and a film viewing.  We are excited to welcome 55 new students to our three volunteer programs, which is more than double the number of students who joined last year.  Our new volunteer cohort includes a range of ages from first-year to graduate students and more than 12 different majors from English and Psychology to Engineering and Neuroscience.  “It was a great pleasure to be a part of this training and see all of the excitement and passion among the volunteers,” one student said.

The 25-hour training kicked off with a welcome address by Laura Blake Jones, Associate Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students.  Dr. Blake Jones expressed her appreciation to all volunteers for their commitment and dedication to this work.  In addition, SAPAC staff members discussed the mission, vision, and goals of the organization, and shared stories about how they became involved in the movement to end sexual and intimate partner violence.  To conclude the first night, all new volunteers talked about what inspired them to join SAPAC and what they hoped to get out of their volunteer experience.  Returning volunteers shared their “SAPAC Story” and described how they got involved, what their journey has been like, and what they’ve gained from being part of the program.    

New volunteers participated in their own curriculum track this year that included introductory information about sexual assault, intimate partner violence, stalking, sexual harassment, and how to effectively respond to and support someone who has experienced these kinds of traumas.  In addition, new volunteers attended a workshop entitled, “Explorations of the Social Identity” which provided an opportunity for students to reflect upon their social identities and discuss how they impact experiences and perspectives.  “I loved talking to the other volunteers, especially with the social identity activity,” one student said. “It was great meeting people and hearing about their experiences.”  

Another workshop designed for new volunteers focused on the sometimes overwhelming nature of this work and the importance of taking care of ourselves.  Participants completed a self-care inventory and discussed different self-care techniques.  One student commented that this part of the training was unexpected and made them feel very supported.

“Primary Prevention: Envisioning a World Without Violence” provided a framework for prevention and explained what it means to stop violence before it ever starts.  Participants learned about similarities between the sexual violence prevention movement and other social and public health movements and campaigns.  Presenters discussed how we can learn from the successes of other movements in order to effectively create social change.    

Finally, new volunteers participated in a session on bystander intervention which focused on some of the reasons why it is difficult to intervene in situations that are harmful, hurtful, or disrespectful and provided participants with strategies and tools to intervene safely and effectively.  “I feel like this training really gave us the tools to be able to help others, “one student said.  “It’s one thing to tell someone to act as a bystander and it’s another to give them different strategies to use based on their circumstance.” 

Returning volunteers completed a separate curriculum track that focused on continuing their educational and professional development.  One session entitled, “Contemporary History of Activism in Music” addressed how activism and social justice are presented through music and highlighted various musicians throughout the decades who contributed to social activism and social change.  Musicians such as Sam Cooke, Bob Marley, Kathleen Hanna, and Pearl Jam were discussed and students had an opportunity to talk about who they view as activist artists today.  The session helped participants understand how the greater social climate influences the ways that activism is expressed in music.  One student commented, “I felt that I learned a lot about music and activism and how complicated they can both be.”

 The “Advanced Advocacy” session provided returning volunteers with in-depth information about the direct service, crisis intervention, and advocacy side of our work.  “It was awesome to get to hear more about what professional staff does,” one student said. “It shed light into a part of SAPAC that volunteers don’t really get to see, which was both cool and incredibly useful.”  Presenters discussed how the crisis line works, what types of calls they receive, and strategies they use to effectively provide support over the phone.  They also described what happens when a survivor checks him or herself into the emergency room and the role of the SAPAC advocate in that setting.  Finally, they talked about the types of services and intervention they provide when a survivor walks into the SAPAC office. 

Three of SAPAC’s office assistants conducted a film viewing of The Invisible War with returning volunteers.  The 2012 documentary film is written and directed by Kirby Dick and produced by Amy Zeiring and Tanner King Barklow about sexual assault in the United States military.  It premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival where it received the U.S. Documentary Audience Award.  The Invisible War features interviews with veterans from multiple branches of the United States Armed Forces who recount the events surrounding their assaults. Their stories show many common themes, such as the lack of recourse to an impartial justice system, retaliation against survivors instead of against perpetrators, the absence of adequate emotional and physical care for survivors, the unhindered advancement of perpetrators' careers, and the forced expulsion of survivors from service. Immediately following the film, the presenters facilitated a large group discussion and debrief.  One student talked about how this workshop offered a unique perspective about a specific population this issue effects, and how interesting it is to apply the concepts of power and control to this context.    

Finally, the last session for returning volunteers entitled, “Self-Awareness and Outreach” focused on how to effectively engage in conversations with others about difficult social justice issues.  The presenters helped students assess and identify factors that contribute to a successful interaction, and understand what it means personally to them to have effective conversations.  Participants talked in small groups about times when they felt both effective and ineffective in engaging with someone about challenging social justice issues, and what dynamics were at play.  “This workshop involved sharing personal experiences which was helpful for reflection in a group setting, “one student said. “This topic is an ongoing struggle I think many volunteers in SAPAC and social justice activists face.  I found the information to be relevant to my everyday life.” 

Throughout the training, SAPAC continued to include post-training debrief opportunities facilitated by current volunteers.  This provided a safe space for students to discuss the content from training and transition back into the “real world.”  One student said, “I think the most valuable part for me were the debrief sessions, and I wish that more trainings included an optional debrief session.  I was extremely grateful that this was made available.” 

Volunteer training concluded with an exercise in which students were asked to express what they felt empowered to do after having participated in the program.  Some of the comments included:

  • Make a change
  • Empower men to end sexual violence
  • Speak out and challenge myths
  • Change society’s view of violence against women and power-based violence in general
  • Educate others about common misconceptions
  • Be an ally
  • Keep an open mind
  • Promote safe spaces
  • Practice self-care
  • Think critically
  • Speak up! Speak out! Be heard!
  • End sexual violence!

On behalf of the entire SAPAC staff, we’d like to congratulate all students on completing volunteer training.  We are proud of you and look forward to seeing all of the amazing work you do in the months and years to come. 

Thank you to the SAPAC staff and students who helped make volunteer training such a success this year! 

We look forward to welcoming new volunteers again in the winter of 2014.  If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, please visit the SAPAC website and fill out an application.

Thank you!